I saw “Trainwreck” last night. The 7:00 p.m. showing at the 68th Street AMC was full. Maybe people had come just to get out of the apartment and yet avoid the beastly heat, but they enjoyed the movie.  Sometimes the laughter lasted long enough to cover up the next joke.

The “Trainwreck” story is standard rom-com: Amy Schumer plays a young woman who rejects the idea of commitment and love. Circumstances put her together with a man she seems to have nothing in common with. You can guess the rest.

But this is Amy Schumer’s movie, so there’s an important twist – the conventional sex roles are reversed. It’s the man who is sweet and naive and who wants a real relationship; the woman has a lot of sex with a lot of different guys, drinks a lot, smokes weed, and resists love until at the end, she decides to become the woman he wants her to be.

Here is the R-rated version of the trailer:

What interested me was not the movie itself, but the reaction in some conservative quarters. For Armond White at the National Review, the movie triggered something like what Jonathan Haidt calls “disgust” – a reaction to the violation of strong taboos that surround things like food, sex, blood and other bodily matters, and death. These taboos are often arbitrary, not rational. Pork is an “abomination,” for example, because… well, because it is, and because pigs are “unclean.”

“Trainwreck” has no pork, but it does have what some find unclean.

Schumer’s tampon jokes and gay jokes, female versions of locker-room humor, literally drag pop culture to the toilet. A girl-talk scene set in adjoining restroom stalls — one revealing dropped panties, the other panty-less (obviously Amy) — is just Apatow using women to show off his indecency.

As a comedian and now as a filmmaker, Schumer talks about women-things: body functions and body parts. These jokes seem to elicit two different kinds of laughter. Back when researchers studying small group interaction were trying to code and categorize behavior, laughter posed a problem (see this earlier post). It could be coded as “Shows Tension,” but it might also be “Shows Tension Release.”

With Amy Schumer jokes, the male laughter is mostly a nervous, full of tension about a taboo subject. But the female laughter seems much less inhibited – tension release, maybe even a relief, as if to say, “Someone is finally talking publicly and frankly about things we could only whisper about,” since most of the time they have had to pretend to share the male taboo.

Indecency indeed. But something is indecent only to members of groups that deem it indecent. Some groups are not at all disgusted by pork.  And for some audiences, tampon jokes and toilet-stall conversations about Johnny Depp movies are not indecent; they’re just funny. What audiences might those be? Women.

Take the tampon joke that the National Reviewer finds indecent. It would seem obvious that used tampons look different depending on where you are in your period – less bloody on the final day, more so a few days earlier. But at the mere mention of this fact in “Trainwreck,” hilarity ensues, especially among women in the audience.

The thing about taboos – ideas about what is indecent or disgusting – is that entire social structures get built around them. To violate the taboo is to threaten the entire edifice. Powerful taboos on women-things often go with male domination. So for the National Review, the “Trainwreck”reversal of rom-com gender roles makes the movie dangerous and subversive.

Here are some excerpts from the review just to give the flavor of this Purity-and-Danger-like conflating of taboo, female sexuality, and social/political threat to the established order (emphasis mine):

Schumer turns female sexual prerogative into shamelessness

the degradation of sex — and women

uses sex to promote feminist permissiveness.

She enjoys a sexual license

Amy brazenly practices the same sexual habits as men

Lacking
. . . old-fashioned sense of shame,

It’s merely brazen, like Lena Dunham’s HBO series, Girls (also about a promiscuous female writer

Schumer’s film can be seen to distort human relations into smut.

This is not just disrespectful, it confirms Schumer’s project of cultural takeover,

she aims to acquire cultural power

Schumer disguises a noxious cultural agenda as personal fiat. She’s a comedy demagogue who okays modern misbehavior yet blatantly revels in PC notions about feminism, abortion, and other hot-button topics

Wow.

I should add that not all conservative publications felt so threatened. Joe Morganstern at the Wall Street Journal gave the movie a warm review. Breitbart saw the movie’s essential conservatism (“The anti-slut message is a healthy one”) and praised Schumer as a comic actor.  Still, the National Review piece seems emblematic of something broader in the cultural conservative camp: a taboo-like reaction to female sexuality.

Originally posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

All attributed motivations are approximate. All races are unconfirmed. All crimes are alleged. All oppression is interconnected.

 

June 17, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority kills in order to feel powerful. He kills nine black parishioners because black people are all the same to him and he needs to do what he needs to do to remind the world that he is dominant.

 

June 17, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority tries to kill in order to feel powerful. He crashes in the midst of trying to run someone over with his car because “go back to the country you came from” and don’t tell him not to use the business’ phone because he is dominant.

 

June 21, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority stabs in order to feel powerful. He stabs three musicians because ew gay and “skinny jeans” and he will show them what happens to fags because he is dominant.

 

June 26, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority kills in order to feel powerful. He shoots a Muslim man in the head at a four-way stop because “go back to Islam” – or maybe a traffic dispute – because it was his turn to go, damn it, because he is dominant.

 

July 1, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority kills in order to feel powerful. He kills a lion because it’s one of the most majestic creatures he can think of and being able to kill and behead it affirms that he is dominant.

 

July 10, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority threatens murder in order to feel powerful. He retaliates against a black woman because she refuses to perform subservience and “I will light you up” if that’s what it takes to show you people that I am dominant.

 

July 11, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority kills in order to feel powerful. He opens fire on two Native American men he believes are homeless because he’s “tired of watching them” and it is not acceptable that he is uncomfortable or inconvenienced because he is dominant.

 

July 18, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority attempts murder in order to feel powerful. He shoots a person in the face because he believes he is an undocumented immigrant – “a fucking Mexican” – because this is his country and, therefore, he is dominant.

 

July 18, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority kills serially in order to feel powerful. He pulls a gun and strangles a woman with the intent to torture because he assumes she is nothing to anybody and murdering prostitutes makes him feel dominant.

 

July 19, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority kills in order to feel powerful. He, a police officer, shoots a man in the face because he might be getting away after a traffic violation; black lives don’t matter because he is dominant.

 

July 22, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority kills in order to feel powerful. He murders his wife and her two children because she is giving him “relationship problems” and she doesn’t have the right to do that because he is dominant.

 

July 23, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority kills in order to feel powerful. He kills women because they keep doing and saying things that he does not approve of and he doesn’t have to take it anymore because he is dominant.

 

August 3, 2015:

White American males with weapons who believe in their own superiority stockpile weapons in order to feel powerful. They amass guns and ammunition and make homemade bombs because the the government insists on existing and they refuse to respect any entity above themselves because they are dominant.

 

August 6, 2015:

White American male with weapons who believes in his own superiority makes bombs in order to feel powerful. He builds explosive devices filled with BBs and nails because he sympathizes with the KKK, the Nazis, and what the Confederate Army was really defending but luckily he only blows off his own leg and I wonder now how he feels about being dominant.

 

August 7, 2015:

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority kills in order to feel powerful. He shoots a man four times within seconds of apprehending him because I am a cop and you are not allowed to do that and his only consequence is to get fired for “bad judgement” because he is dominant.

 

August 16, 2015.

White American male with a weapon who believes in his own superiority kills in order to feel powerful. He kills a man because he got in the way of his desire to kill his fiancee, who deserved it, because she argued with him and it was necessary to remind her that he is dominant.

 

 

Summer, 2015.

Organizers of Free Pride Glasgow, a Scottish gay pride parade, have “banned” drag queens from the event, citing concerns that men dressing up like women is offensive to trans women. The LGBTQ community is afire about this, citing the long tradition of drag performances in gay communities and the role drag queens have played in the Gay Liberation movement. “hello, ever heard of THE STONEWALL RIOTS?!!!” tweeted one of the stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

The organizers of Free Pride Glasgow are standing their ground, stating that they will only allow noncisgender men — men those who do not identify as men — trans women to perform in drag. A facebook comment suggested, and rightly so, that this could get really problematic really fast in practice, asking: “How are you going to moderate who is a trans and who is a cis drag act?”

Well, that’s a can of worms.

I don’t know how this conversation is going to play out and, to be honest, I’m nervous to jump in. But I gotta say that I, for one, really hope we keep talking about this. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to worry about how drag queen performances might make trans women feel. Drag performers generally do an exaggerated performance of femininity and I think it’s okay to ask whether and when this counts as mocking femininity and the people that perform it: trans women, yes, and ciswomen, too.

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Sexism matters here and anyone can be sexist, even drag queens. When drag queens trot out some of the worst stereotypes about women, for example –performing characters that are vain, bitchy, selfish, and always PMSing — I see girlface. I see men mocking femininity, not embracing their feminine sides and busting the fiction of masculinity. So, I don’t blame trans women one bit if this makes them uncomfortable; it sure makes me uncomfortable and I’m in a much safer position than they.

So, I don’t know where this conversation is going to go, but I do think we need to have it. It needs to be, though, not about whether drag queens should be banned, but what drag should look like going forward. It should be about both what drag queens bring to the movement — their value in the past and the role they can play now — but also whether and how their performances contribute to a devaluation of femininity that hurts all women, cis, trans, and other.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Following the recent mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th, 2015 – a racially motivated act of domestic terrorism – President Barack Obama delivered a sobering address to the American people. With a heavy heart, President Obama spoke the day following the attack, stating:

At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing that politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge.

President Obama was primarily referring to gun control in the portion of his speech addressing the cause of attacks like this. Not all mass shootings are racially motivated, and not all qualify as “terrorist” attacks — though Charleston certainly qualifies.  And the mass shooting that occurred a just a month later in Chattanooga, Tennessee by a Kuwati-born American citizen was quickly labeled an act of domestic terrorism. But, President Obama makes an important point here: mass shootings are a distinctly American problem. This type of rampage violence happens more in the United States than anywhere else. And gun control is a significant part of the problem. But, gun control is only a partial explanation for mass shootings in the United States.

Mass shootings are also almost universally committed by men.  So, this is not just an American problem; it’s a problem related to American masculinity and to the ways American men use guns.  But asking whether “guns” or “masculinity” is more of the problem misses the central point that separating the two might not be as simple as it sounds.  And, as Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan note in the Mother Jones Guide to Mass Shootings in America, the problem is getting worse.

We recently wrote a chapter summarizing the research on masculinity and mass shootings for Mindy Stombler and Amanda Jungels’ forthcoming volume, Focus on Social Problems: A Contemporary Reader (Oxford University Press). And we subsequently learned of a new dataset on mass shootings in the U.S. produced by the Stanford Geospatial Center. Their Mass Shootings in America database defines a “mass shooting” as an incident during which an active shooter shoots three or more people in a single episode. Some databases define mass shootings as involving 4 shootings in a single episode. And part of this reveals that the number is, in some ways, arbitrary. What is significant is that we can definitively say that mass shootings in the U.S. are on the rise, however they are defined. The Mother Jones database has shown that mass shootings have become more frequent over the past three decades.  And, using the Stanford database, we can see the tend by relying on data that stretches back a bit further.

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Additionally, we know that the number of victims of mass shootings is also at an historic high:

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We also produced a time-lapse map of mass shootings in the United States illustrating both where and when mass shootings have occurred using the Stanford Geospatial Center’s database to illustrate this trend over time:

Our map charts mass shootings with 3 or more victims over roughly 5 decades, since 1966. The dataset takes us through the Charleston and Chattanooga shootings, which brought 2015 to 42 mass shootings . The dataset is composed of 216 separate incidents only 5 of which were committed by lone woman shooters. Below we produced an interactive map depicting all of the mass shootings in the dataset with brief descriptions of the shootings.

In our chapter in Stombler and Jungels’ forthcoming book, we cull existing research to answer two questions about mass shootings: (1) Why is it men who commit mass shootings? and (2) Why do American men commit mass shootings so much more than men anywhere else?  Based on sociological research, we argue that there are two separate explanations – a social psychological explanation and a cultural explanation (see the book for much more detail on each).

A Social Psychological Explanation

Research shows that when an identity someone cares about is called into question, they are likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity.  As this relates to gender, some sociologists call this “masculinity threat.”  And while mass shootings are not common, research suggests that mass shooters experience masculinity threats from their peers and, sometimes, simply from an inability to live up to societal expectations associated with masculinity (like holding down a steady job, being able to obtain sexual access to women’s bodies, etc.) – some certainly more toxic than others.

The research on this topic is primarily experimental.  Men who are brought into labs and have their masculinity experimentally “threatened” react in patterned ways: they are more supportive of violence, less likely to identify sexual coercion, more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males, and more.

This research provides important evidence of what men perceive as masculine in the first place (resources they rely on in a crisis) and a new kind evidence regarding the relationship of masculinity and violence.  The research does not suggest that men are somehow inherently more violent than women.  Rather, it suggests that men are likely to turn to violence when they perceive themselves to be otherwise unable to stake a claim to a masculine gender identity.

A Cultural Explanation

But certainly boys and men experience all manner of gender identity threat in other societies.  Why are American boys and men more likely to react with such extreme displays?  To answer this question, we need an explanation that articulates the role that American culture plays in influencing boys and young men to turn to this kind of violence at rates higher than anywhere else in the world.  This means we need to turn our attention away from the individual characteristics of the shooters themselves and to more carefully investigate the sociocultural contexts in which violent masculinities are produced and valorized.

Men have historically benefited from a great deal of privilege – white, educated, middle and upper class, able-bodied, heterosexual men in particular.  Social movements of all kinds have slowly chipped away at some of these privileges.  So, while inequality is alive and well, men have also seen a gradual erosion of privileges that flowed more seamlessly to previous generations of men (white, heterosexual, class-privileged men in particular).  Michael Kimmel suggests that these changes have produced a uniquely American gendered sentiment that he calls “aggrieved entitlement.”  Of course, being pissed off about an inability to cash in on privileges previous generations of men received without question doesn’t always lead to mass shootings.  But, from this cultural perspective, mass shootings can be understood as an extremely violent example of a more general issue regarding changes in relations between men and women and historical transformations in gender, race, and class inequality.

Mass shootings are a pressing issue in the United States.  And gun control is an important part of this problem.  But, when we focus only on the guns, we sometimes gloss over an important fact: mass shootings are also enactments of masculinity.  And they will continue to occur when this fact is combined with a sense among some men that male privilege is a birthright – and one that many feel unjustly denied.

Cross-posted at Feminist Reflections and Inequality by (Interior) Design.

Tristan Bridges and Tara Leigh Tober are sociologists at the College at Brockport (SUNY).   You can follow them on at @tristanbphd and @tobertara.

 

Recently there’s been heightened attention to calling out microaggressions and giving trigger warnings. I recently speculated that the loudest voices making these demands come from people in categories that have gained in power but are still not dominant, notably women at elite universities.  What they’re saying in part is, “We don’t have to take this shit anymore.” Or as Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning put it in a recently in The Chronicle:

…offenses against historically disadvantaged social groups have become more taboo precisely because different groups are now more equal than in the past.

It’s nice to have one’s hunches seconded by scholars who have given the issue much more thought.

Campbell and Manning make the context even broader. The new “plague of hypersensitivity” (as sociologist Todd Gitlin called it) isn’t just about a shift in power, but a wider cultural transformation from a “culture of dignity” to a “culture of victimhood.” More specifically, the aspect of culture they are talking about is social control. How do you get other people to stop doing things you don’t want them to do – or not do them in the first place?

In a “culture of honor,” you take direct action against the offender.  Where you stand in society – the rights and privileges that others accord you – is all about personal reputation (at least for men). “One must respond aggressively to insults, aggressions, and challenges or lose honor.” The culture of honor arises where the state is weak or is concerned with justice only for some (the elite). So the person whose reputation and honor are at stake must rely on his own devices (devices like duelling pistols).  Or in his pursuit of personal justice, he may enlist the aid of kin or a personalized state-substitute like Don Corleone.

In more evolved societies with a more extensive state, honor gives way to “dignity.”

The prevailing culture in the modern West is one whose moral code is nearly the exact opposite of that of an honor culture. Rather than honor, a status based primarily on public opinion, people are said to have dignity, a kind of inherent worth that cannot be alienated by others. Dignity exists independently of what others think, so a culture of dignity is one in which public reputation is less important. Insults might provoke offense, but they no longer have the same importance as a way of establishing or destroying a reputation for bravery. It is even commendable to have “thick skin” that allows one to shrug off slights and even serious insults, and in a dignity-based society parents might teach children some version of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – an idea that would be alien in a culture of honor.

The new “culture of victimhood” has a different goal – cultural change. Culture is, after all, a set of ideas that is shared, usually so widely shared as to be taken for granted. The microaggression debate is about insult, and one of the crucial cultural ideas at stake is how the insulted person should react. In the culture of honor, he must seek personal retribution. In doing so, of course, he is admitting that the insult did in fact sting. The culture of dignity also focuses on the character of offended people, but here they must pretend that the insult had no personal impact. They must maintain a Jackie-Robinson-like stoicism even in the face of gross insults and hope that others will rise to their defense. For smaller insults, say Campbell and Manning, the dignity culture “would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue,” which still keeps things at a personal level, “or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.”

In the culture of victimhood, the victim’s goal is to make the personal political.  “It’s not just about me…”  Victims and their supporters are moral entrepreneurs. They want to change the norms so that insults and injustices once deemed minor are now seen as deviant. They want to define deviance up.  That, for example, is the primary point of efforts like the Microaggressions Project, which describes microaggressions in exactly these terms, saying that microaggression “reminds us of the ways in which we and people like us continue to be excluded and oppressed” (my emphasis).

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So, what we are seeing may be a conflict between two cultures of social control: dignity and victimhood. It’s not clear how it will develop. I would expect that those who enjoy the benefits of the status quo and none of its drawbacks will be most likely to resist the change demanded by a culture of victimhood. It may depend on whether shifts in the distribution of social power continue to give previously more marginalized groups a louder and louder voice.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

A new article reports the findings from a longitudinal study that followed 667 women who had early- and later-term abortions for three years after their procedure. Dr. Corinne Rocca and her colleagues asked women if they felt that the abortion was the “right decision” at one week and approximately every six months thereafter.

This is your image of the week:

 

Percent of women reporting that abortion was the right decision over three years:

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Over 99% of the women said that the abortion was the right decision at every time point. The line that looks like the upper barrier of the graph? That’s the data.

Overall, measures of negative emotions were relatively low — an average score of under 4 on a 16-point scale at one week and declining to about 2 at three years — and were higher for women who had a more difficult time deciding whether to get an abortion or who subsequently had planned pregnancies. Whether the abortion occurred in the first trimester or near the legal limit did not correlate with emotional response.

In contrast, women reported twice as many positive emotions at one week. Over time, positive feelings about the abortion declined along with negative ones, suggesting that the experience became less emotionally charged overall with distance from the procedure.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

SocImages has a Tumblr where all of the posts that pop up here (and more) get re-posted and go all over the internet. And a few days ago it gave me this post.

While I was working on the page, I saw a really interesting example of the kind of thoughtlessness that happens when designers aren’t thinking about all their potential users. Here’s a screenshot of what I encountered; it’s a timeline of all the things that had happened on the page in reverse chronological order, except the very top line, which is the interesting part. It reads:

SCREAM: You’ll never see it coming. TONIGHT.

Here’s a screenshot:5

As a female and, more importantly a woman-on-the-internet, my first gut reaction was that I was going to have to forward it to the FBI. You see, it’s an ad for something on MTV — and I realized that in the 2nd second — but, in the 1st second, I thought it was someone threatening to kill me.

I don’t mean to be overly dramatic about this. Even in the 1st second, my reaction was more well, hell than omg I’m gonna die, but I do wonder whether the ad managers at Tumblr or MTV ever considered the possibility that this way of advertising might be genuinely scary to someone, even if just for a second. I wonder if the managing team has anyone on it who is also a woman-on-the-internet. Or anyone who’s job it is to specifically think about the diversity of their users and how different strategies might affect them differently.

One doesn’t have to be routinely subject to threatening comments and messages to have the reaction I did. I could be someone who just left an abusive partner, someone who’s been attacked before, a witness in a criminal trial, a doctor who performs abortions or, christ, a black preacher in the South. Or maybe just someone who doesn’t appreciate an advertisement that, through an intended double meaning, implies that I, personally, am about to be attacked. That’s not funny, or fun, to everyone.

This kind of thing seems to happen all the time. Another example might be the Nikon camera feature, designed to warn you if someone blinked, that thinks Asian people have their eyes closed; the HP face-tracking webcam that can’t see black people; the obsessive health-tracking app that can’t be deleted off your iphone, even if you have an eating disorder; or the fact that it seems to track everything except menstrual cycles, making female-bodied people invisible.

This is one of the arguments for why businesses need diverse staff. Greater diversity — especially if everyone is explicitly given permission to raise issues like these — would make it far more likely that companies could avoid these gaffes and make products better for everyone.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

3By Carolita Johnson. Read more at Oscarlita.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.